A friend recently introduced me to the work of Phyllis Theroux. I was only a few pages into her memoir The Journal Keeper when this line jumped out at me: “It is such a gift to coincide with where you live.” And there you have it: that’s exactly how I feel about the place where I now reside: our little row house on Cannon Street in the historic heart of Chestertown.
When it comes to coinciding with places I’ve lived, I’ve been lucky. There was a wonderful old farmhouse on the campus of the school where I once worked that needed a caretaker; a second floor shotgun apartment in the Georgetown section of Washington that opened onto a gorgeous hidden garden; an apartment in the old, grey town of St. Andrews, Scotland that was next to a castle and overlooked the North Sea; a traditional Tunisian house with simple spare rooms radiating off a central courtyard covered by a grape arbor. In each, I was happy, and that happiness was indeed a gift that coincided with the place where I lived.
In another week, my wife and I will celebrate our first decade in Chestertown. Our house may be small, but its front porch opens onto a world where friends drop in and all are welcome. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about this place that so satisfies my soul. Maybe it’s the open streetscape or the mottled sycamore that provides us with summer shade; the mix of interesting people that meander by; our neighbors and our shared white picket fences; the rich though sometimes poignant history and architecture of four old homes in a colonial town; the ebb and flow of the nearby river; the latent fertility of the farmers’ fields now sleeping under a sheet of snow just around the corner. Yes; all those elements and some other, more ephemeral qualities, too: the blush of light that bathes us with soft colors at sunset; the brilliance of the stars shining like diamonds in the nighttime sky; the hush of our darkened street; the smell of fresh bread from the bakery next door; the ricochet of laughter or the quiet hum of conversation on the porch. Bits we notice and pieces we take for granted. Nothing is perfect, but except for all the leaves that drop from that mottled sycamore tree in the fall, the gift of this place comes pretty darn close.
Some of us come from here; others, like me, came from away. I like to think that this town found me, not the other way ‘round, but however the connection was made, I’m more than grateful. Now with ten good years under my belt here, I’m beginning to feel the pull of forever, something I’ve never experienced before. That feeling may be the wrapping paper and bow on the gift this place has bestowed on me.
Ms. Theroux is a native Californian who long ago uprooted herself and moved to Washington. (She now lives in the small town of Ashland, Virginia.) I imagine she is a pretty close observer of people and places, so her gifts have likely been copious, too. Maybe some day, we’ll compare notes and reminisce about the wayside inns where we stopped along our winding way. Maybe on our porch. I’d like that.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com